23-Aug-01
Microsoft Astro-turfs Again

Yet again, a Microsoft front organization gets caught trying to influence government with a phony "grass-roots" letter writing campaign.

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The Los Angeles Times (which blew the cover off a major Microsoft "astroturf" campaign a couple years ago), has published details of another phony letter writing campaign attempting to show popular support for Microsoft's position vs. the Department of Justice.

"An astroturf" campaign is so called after the artificial grass product AstroTurftm since it artificially simulates "grass-roots" support.

In this case, a great deal of effort was expended to make the letters look real and individual, so the intent to deceive is obvious. Each was on "personalized" stationary and used different type faces, but some included mistakes (coming from dead people and towns that didn't exist) and a number of them included identical sentences. They were, in fact, composed by a Microsoft lobbying front, Americans for Technology Leadership.

The staffs of Attorneys General in several states detected the subterfuge and they have expressed considerable anger at Microsoft. Mike Hatch, Attorney General of Minnesota, described Microsoft's campaign thusly: "It's sleazy" "This is not a company that appears to be bothered by ethical boundaries".

As usual, Microsoft's surrogates "innovated" the truth. ATL executive director Jim Pendergast first said, "We gave them a few bullet points, but that's about the extent of it." Faced with identical sentences in some of the letters, Pendergast then conceded, "We'd write the letter and then send it to them".

Analysis

Actually, this isn't "astroturfs again", it's just another project in a massive ongoing astroturf campaign. Numerous magazine columnists have recently published columns spouting the Microsoft line, almost word for word. Microsoft's PR fronts send them a template and pay them for getting the article published. The results are pretty easy to spot because they just paraphrase the template, All include the exact same points.

Microsoft sponsors two major lobbying groups, The Association for Competitive Technology, and a spin-off from that group, Americans for Technology Leadership. Both are active in trying to influence legislation in state governments, especially in California. Neither will state how much of their support comes from Microsoft, but Oracle Corp. got in a little hot water about a year ago for having a detective agency sort through one of the organization's trash to try to determine that.

Microsoft also employs two high profile political advocacy groups: Dewey Square Group (Democrat oriented) and DCI/New Media (Republican oriented), has become the 5th largest "soft money" donor to both parties, and hires a whole lineup of other lobbying firms.

Keep in mind, this same "ethically challenged" company wants you to trust it with all your personal financial information, appointment schedule, credit card accounts, and other sensitive information through their expanded .NET and Passport services. If you use Hotmail, or MSN, this will happen pretty much automatically.

- Andrew Grygus

Links

  • Los Angeles Times - story of 23 Aug 01 Lobbyists Tied to Microsoft Wrote Citizens' Letters.This will go on "pay to view" in a few days.
  • Seattle Times - article excerpted from the full Los Angeles Times article.
  • The Register - commentary on the Seattle Times version.
  • Computer World - mostly based on LA Times story.

©:Andrew Grygus - Automation Access - www.aaxnet.com - aax@aaxnet.com
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